Friday, February 21, 2014

Ode to Marvin

Marvin Paige, Casting Director, passed away in November 2013 several weeks after he sustained injuries in a car accident when he was on his way (as he often was) to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a film screening. The piece below was written by Randy Haberkamp of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and read at Marvin's memorial at the Egyptian Theatre on his birthday (Jan. 26, 2014).


I’ve called my little speech, “Ode to Marvin”.  I don’t know why.  I think it’s because I don’t want to get overly serious about Marvin Paige.  Because, quite frankly, Marvin was, as they say, a character.

The circumstances and particulars of meeting people for the first time usually get cloudy as time passes.  After all, we rarely know when we’re meeting someone who will have more than a passing influence on our lives. 

If my memory is correct, I first met Marvin at the Moustache CafĂ© on Melrose Avenue in 1989.  I had offered to take him to lunch as I’d been told he was someone I should meet who could help me with the celebrity appearances we wanted to have at the first Cinecon to be held in Hollywood after many years, in the hopes that it would become the convention’s permanent home. 

It was the first of many times that I would buy Marvin lunch.  It was also the first of many times when we would begin planning on whom we could get to attend various film screenings and tributes.  On that first day I wasn’t really sure whether Marvin knew the people we were hoping to get, or whether he was just a guy who was good at talking people into things.    That didn’t really become clearer over the years.  All I know is that he would go to incredible lengths to track someone down once his sights were set on them and he had an incredible mental rolodex of where people were, what they had last done, and what their health situation was.

Over the years I would work with Marvin for Cinecons, for the Hollywood Studio Museum aka “the Barn” or Hollywood Heritage, and eventually and most recently at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  In between there were dozens of other places where films were screened or celebrated and Marvin was usually there.

I can’t paint a complete picture of Marvin without mentioning that I did spend a lot of time defending him.  To be honest, I still do.  Marvin wasn’t always an easy guy.  He was down right tenacious.  When he was overseeing a personal appearance of a celebrity at an event, he was right by their side from beginning to end, and when he felt the celebrity wasn’t being treated properly or needed something, he spoke up and made sure they got everything he felt they deserved.   If Marvin only knew the celebrity marginally and sometimes not at all, he still took it upon himself to represent their interests whether they asked for it or not.

More than once I’ve had to answer the question “Who is that guy?   Sometimes this question would be followed by “and who does he think he is?”  That’s Marvin Paige, I’d answer.  He’s a casting director.  The next question would often be “Why are all these older stars so loyal to him?”  Professionally many of us know that Marvin cast BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN and later GENERAL HOSPITAL for many years…and most notoriously that he advised Gloria Stuart that she should return James Cameron’s call when he was searching for his older version of Rose for TITANIC.  Why, indeed where they so loyal to him?

It had taken me a while to discover Marvin’s secrets.  He was one of the most loyal fans any classic movie star could hope to have.  He knew people’s careers inside and out, and he had actually SEEN their films (and continued to see them in revivals and reruns on TV.)  His interest went beyond his professional advancement or survival as the case may be.  He was invested.

But, beyond that, as many of you probably know, his real secret was that he was one of the few people in Hollywood who made an effort to show his appreciation to some of these classic actors in a way that actually meant something to them personally.  While working as the casting director for General Hospital, Marvin would give these actors a small part for a day or two.  Basically whatever it required to keep their SAG health insurance active.  Even years ago helping someone keep their health insurance was a great way to also insure their loyalty. 
When Marvin asked those stars to appear at a screening or to join in a party, they were not only willing, but grateful for his attention and devotion.

Marvin also knew that the way to a celebrity’s heart was actually through their family.  He not only paid attention to the star, but to the current wife or husband, the son, the daughter, the grandson, the granddaughter, of course, since he had some treasured cats of his own, even their pets.

Given Hollywood politics, it’s shouldn’t be surprising then, that this loyalty Marvin had built up often irritated younger publicists, agents, or managers who couldn’t figure all this out.  Marvin was never deterred.  Over the years I even witnessed a few celebrities who felt a bit stifled by his attention, but again, he was never deterred. 

If nothing else, surviving in Hollywood takes guts, and Marvin had guts.  I learned over time that if you didn’t work with him up front, you’d be working with him one way or another down the line.   More than once I’ve seen Marvin get the upper hand when someone thought THEY were going to be the one in charge.

Despite Marvin’s tenacity, he was amazingly easy to please.  Though I knew I’d be hit up for a lunch every time I needed his help, I never minded, because Marvin knew that the organizations I was working for didn’t have money to pay him and he never once asked me for money for himself. 

He would ask for all kinds of arrangements for the various celebrities we were working with, and I’d give them whatever accommodation I could, but other than some extra tickets, some extra reception guests, or some extra programs or giveaways, I never paid Marvin directly for his work. 

I have no doubt he was able to receive income indirectly in other ways through the connections and goodwill he made from the work we did together, but Marvin was amazingly happy and content to see his classic stars in the spotlight he thought they deserved.

Marvin was extremely proud of his membership in the Academy and if you paid attention he usually had an Academy pin on his lapel.  I know because he lost a few over the years and I was immediately hit up to supply him with replacements.   
He loved having any Academy program or poster and I’m sure there’s a plentiful supply of them from over the years among his stash of movie memorabilia. 

But that’s fine because Marvin was always willing to share his treasures.  Whenever we ran a film, he’d stop by with posters, lobby cards, press books, stills….all kinds of things he’d gathered together over the years.   

He was equally proud of telling me stories of where he’d found his various treasures, or stories of how he had given copies of the various photographs to the celebrities who had never seen that particular photo before, or of how he had managed to get them to autograph it.  Marvin’s collection wasn’t just his treasure, his collection was his memory.

I’m told that Marvin was heading to the Academy for a screening of THE CROWD when he was in the car crash that would result in the injuries from which he was unable to recover.  It’s unsettling of course, but also somehow fitting.  He was in pursuit of his love for movies right til the end.  We at the Academy suspected something was wrong when he didn’t show up that night, because he had called several times that day to confirm his tickets and change his guest list.  When Marvin didn’t show up for a screening of a classic film, it was noticed.

Since his death I’ve had several meetings with people from various organizations who inevitably ask a question something like, “Is there anyone who would know how to reach the family of this actor or that actress?”  “Is there anyone who would know if there are any surviving cast members from this classic film? “

And while I know there are lots of people IN Hollywood who know lots of people FROM Hollywood, I can honestly say there isn’t anyone else who has quite the perspective, quite the rolodex, or quite the love that Marvin had.  Ironically Marvin probably had the last PHYSICAL Rolodex in town. 

Despite his tenacious nature, despite his ability to aggravate, Marvin did provide a unique and very personal and very genuine service to movie fans everywhere as he not only arranged personal appearances here in LA, but for TV and DVD interviews as well.    Los Angeles/Hollywood/the Golden Age…what have you, is a little less golden.

There are many things I don’t know about Marvin that I’m sure I’ll discover from other stories here today.  And maybe even a few things I’d be better off not knowing.  One thing I do know is that over the years Marvin managed to give quite a few stars an opportunity to continue shining… with a boost to their morale if not exactly their bank account, AND… he gave literally thousands of fans the opportunity to meet those stars and perhaps even obtain an autograph, or better yet, a cherished personal anecdote. 

I know that Marvin helped the Academy present dozens of programs over the years that were made special through the appearance of the filmmakers and for that reason I’m glad that on behalf of the Academy I can publicly thank him, not only for his service, but that I was able to get permission from the powers that be to help cover the cost of today’s reception.  It seemed only fitting that after all Marvin’s help, there be another free lunch to share with his friends.

Thank you American Cinematheque for providing the Egyptian.  Thank you Hollywood Heritage for your additional support, and on behalf of the Academy and myself, thank you Marvin Paige somewhere in movie heaven.

- Randy Haberkamp